NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Last night the Democratic Party held its nominating convention. As expected, Noam Bramson was nominated as the Party’s Mayoral candidate. So far, so good. Jared Rice (District 3), Ivar Hyden (District 4) and Barry Fertel (District 5 ) were all nominated for re-election. Still right on target. As expected (we tweeted this a month ago), Luis Zepeda was nominated to challenge incumbent Louis Trangucci (District 1). The Democrats did not nominate a candidate to challenge incumbent Albert Tarantino (District 2). All according to the Bramson plan.
The high drama at the convention was reserved for District 6. Whoops. The master politician manages to slip on yet another bananna peel.
So, what happened?
Shari Rackman is the incumbent. During the nominating process Elizabeth Fried was nominated by Marianne Sussman (former District 6 Council Member before Shari Rackman) and Damon Maher (Trustee of New Rochelle Public Library Board, one of 4 candidates for 3 open seats). Shari Rackman was nominated by Mitchell Taranapol and a second given but before a vote could be held Rackman stood and asked to address the convention.
Council Member Jared Rice was live-tweeting the convention. His tweet about what happened next has caused some confusion which we aim to clarify here.
Rice tweeted that Shari Rackman asked that her nomination be withdrawn and stated “Elizabeth Fried is the District 6 nominee”.
Democratic political consultant Jeremy Sherber then tweeted a question to Rice “So that’s that?” to which Rice replied “Yup”.
Well, not quite.
Shari Rackman announced prior to the convention that she would be running for re-election.
In her speech she stated that she would run a primary against Fried and let her constituents decide whether to give her a second term on City Council. Somehow, Rice missed that.
So, what’s really going on here?
This is all about personal retaliation and retribution — as is so often the case in New Rochelle politics.
There are two main element to this (plus plenty of minor ones)
1. Echo Bay — Some Democrats such as Noam Bramson, Tim Idoni and others have held that Shari Rackman is not a “team player” because she cast a procedural vote in November 2013 that effectively killed the Echo Bay Deal.
2. Industrial Development Agency - Shari Rackman voted to replace Marianne Sussman on the IDA Board. Sussman was and is very angry about being removed from the IDA. She convinced most District Leaders in District 6 to pull their support from Rackman to Sussman’s chosen replacement, Elizabeth Fried.
Here is the problem with all that.
Other than the Echo Bay procedural vote and a vote against the creation of Assistant Police Commissioner positions within the New Rochelle Police Department, Rackman has not cast any significant votes that were not in agreement with Noam Bramson. The same could be said for Jared Rice who voted against the Mayor on the main Echo Bay vote and the Assistant Police Commissioner positions. The same could be said Barry Fertel who voted against the Mayor on the main Echo Bay vote and the end of the Loose Leaf pick up program. Ivar Hyden voted against the Mayor on the Echo Bay procedural vote, the main Echo Bay vote, bonding to move the City Yard and the Assistant Police Commissioner positions. So, in fact, Ivar Hyden has voted against the Mayor than any Democrat on major votes yet Hyden is nominated, unopposed, in District 4 and is voted onto the IDA Board while Rackman is “waterboarded” on the Echo Bay procedural vote and denied the nomination of her own party for a second-term nomination.
The Echo Bay deal was killed by a vote of 6-1, including a 4-1 majority among Democrats on the City Council. Only Mayor Noam Bramson voted in favor of the Forest City/Ratner deal. Even the Mayor has since admitted the deal was flawed. It is true that Rackman was the deciding vote in killing the deal but based on the final outcome and the near universal view that the deal should have been killed the logic that Rackman did a disservice to anyone — the Democrats, the people of District 6, the entire New Rochelle community — is nonsensical. With the benefit of hindsight, all but a handful of people (Lianne and Greg Merchant come to mind) admit today that Rackman’s decision to oppose the Echo Bay deal was been vindicated over the past two years. In fact, given the heated, abusive reaction of Mayor Bramson to Rackman’s procedural vote against the deal (the infamous waterboarding incident), her refusal to buckle to the Mayor’s pressure attacks, the threats she received as result (the threat actualized last night of denying her the Democratic nomination) to stand on principal is what John F. Kennedy would call a Profile in Courage. And for that, Noam Bramson seeks to punish her — for being true to her own values and judgement, sticking to her guns when threatened with political payback and, as almost everyone agrees now, being right on the facts, that Echo Bay was a bad deal. Ironic for a guy who idolizes the Kennedy's and tries his best to mimic Robert F. Kennedy.
The Industrial Development Agency issue is really a case of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. Marianne Sussman is pouting because she was removed from the IDA board, where she was the Chairperson for many years. The reality is that Sussman should have been booted off the board long ago when the New York State Comptroller Audit found gross incompetence by the IDA on her watch back in 2010. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that under Sussman the New Rochelle IDA had no defined process for approving projects, no effort to monitor ongoing projects and a generally sloppy, make-it-up-as-you-go approach while doling out tens of millions of dollars in bonds, tax incentives and other goodies to politically-connected developers with no particular concern over whether the projects deliver upon promised results. This all during the period when Avalon 1 & 2, Trump Tower, LeCount Square, and other high tax abatement deals were occurring. The City has been saddled with the disastrous results every since.
Sussman was not removed in 2010 due to her record of poor leadership on the IDA as would have been fitting. She was removed in 2014 because she was occupying a seat on the board traditionally reserved for a member of the City Council. That is how Sussman got the seat in the first place. The discussion among City Council revolved on having a sitting Council Member on the IDA board rather than a former Council Member.
When the issue was first floated there were various ideas kicked around as to who should fill the spot. Council Member Tarantino floated the idea of Council Member Louis Trangucci filling the spot given his strong interest in tax abatement issues over the years. This was rejected by the Democrats for obvious reasons, Trangucci is a Republican and the Democrats do not have a history of bi-partisanship with appointments. Jared Rice put himself forward as candidate. Some have speculated that Rice was being encouraged to do this by Greg Merchant who was booted off the IDA in 2014 due to his many real and perceived conflicts of interest. For his part, Merchant denies he was booted off the board but rather chose to leave on his own but Merchant is not widely viewed as a reliable source of information about anything, most especially about himself, and his account of event is at odds with every other knowledge source in City government. Simply put, Merchant got the boot from the IDA.
In what is a common misuse of executive session, the entire matter was discussed behind closed doors. Why? There is no exception under the Open Meeting Law for holding such a discussion in executive session which have occurred publicly. The purposes is cosmetic, to enable Mayor Bramson to first determine who the City Council is supporting and why and then hold a series of straw votes to arrive at a decision and then present the resulting candidate as a unanimous 7-0 decision. The illusion of a unified council completely supporting a decision is achieved.
In reality, there were four candidates discussed each of whom received varying levels of support according to multiple sources familiar with the executive session discussion.
Lou Trangucci received votes from just himself and Al Tarantino. Jared said “I support myself” but received no other votes. Ivar Hyden was supported 5-2 (with Noam Bramson and Barry Fertel opposed). Marianne Sussman was supported just 2-5 (with Noam Bramson and Barry Fertel in the affirmative).
So, while Marianne Sussman claims to be justified in her hostility to Rackman over the IDA vote there were two other Democrats who did not support Sussman, Ivar Hyden and Jared Rice, each of whom supported themselves for IDA Board Member. With Ivar getting support by 5-2, the City Council came out of executive session, took a formal vote, and selected Ivar Hyden for the IDA Board, 7-0. So, as a purely formal matter, no one supported Marianne Sussman for IDA Board.
Jared Rice hotly disputed this account of events and gave an on-the-record statement.
"For anyone on council to blatantly lie about an informal vote in executive session is beyond pathetic,” said Rice. “I feel sorry for anyone who would have to stoop to such a level of desperation."
So, if this is not really about Rackman’s votes against Noam Bramson and it is not about kicking Marianne Sussman off the IDA Board then why is Elizabeth Fried the Democratic nominee for District 6?
At the end of the day is all about Noam Bramson being a control freak, maybe a bit about a misogynistic streak in Bramson and a bit of power politics where Bramson seeks to punish anyone who steps out of line.
It also may have something to do with much bigger issues related to the Westchester County Legislator race and jockeying for position if Andrew Cuomo is indicated in the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation. If Cuomo is busted by the feds it leaves the door wide-open for County Executive Rob Astorino to run for Governor in 2017 (just 2 years away!), leaving a room at the top which might appeal to Tim Idoni, now the County Clerk. There is also a strong desire to defeat County Legislator Sheila Marcotte and a perception that Fried might be more willing to work with Haina Just-Michael, the Democratic nominee for County Legislator, in canvassing neighborhoods in District 6 which is largely within Marcotte’s district.
Either way, this is already shaping up to be an interesting campaign cycle -- well before the Labor Day weekend. Heck, it's not even summer yet.